Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tommy's Take on Reclamation

Reclamation is an interesting's a post-apocalyptic RPG about hope. See, the title refers to the move to restore the planet, rather than let it fester in a post-apocalyptic waste.
"My only advice to you is simple: Do as much good as you can in this world for as long as you possibly can." - Nikolai Federick

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF has copy and paste disabled, but is clickable, searchable and bookmarked, which is good since it runs almost 300 pages. The book is black and white, with art ranging from "alright" to "really good". The PDF is $14.95 and the hardcover is only $29.95, with a bundle available at RPGNow.

The Prologue lays out the premise: Essentially, the Sickness swept across the land, drove people nuts, and pushed the world to nuclear war. And sometimes people get completely consumed by The Sickness and its gets worse, they become part of the Mortis-Horde. So, yeah, it tosses a little zombie apocalypse in there on top of the "regular" end of the world. It's a good fiction piece that provides the set-up, hitting all the big points like the world is wrecked, but nature has adapted strangely (including maze-like forests sprouting up and deserts flooding), people gaining powers and people organizing into "cells" (setting up the perfect starting point for PC groups, may I say). More importantly, it introduces the reader to the Reclamation, which injects some hope to the setting.

The Introduction covers the basics in plain English: Post-apocalyptic, this is an RPG, breakdown of the character sheet, etc. The game doesn't use dice, it uses decks of playing cards. That is, a deck per person. When performing an action, you flip over one or more cards depending on your attributes and you add black cards to the total but subtract red cards...and aces are kind of a big deal, both ways. There's an optional rule for taking two cards off of the deck, called "Burn cards", to skew attempts at counting cards.

Character creation is handled through a few steps. First, you select your Mark, which is how the Fallout has affected you. You can be a Survivor, which means that you bear no outward signs of being affected by the Fallout (but you have been). The Magi can cast spells and bend reality to their wills. The Host have become part machine. Pariahs have become, essentially, monsters. Paragons have become something more...the next step in humanity. These all have little history bits to them, with information like where the Marks started, or linking them to aspects of our history and mythology.

Next, you pick a Generation, which determines your trait points and talents. Forerunner has more talents, God's Ten Percent has more trait points, Descendants are in between.

Then, you pick a Background: There more than a couple dozen of these, with options like Anarchist, Avenger, Dreamer, Nomad, Prophet and Warrior. Each one gives you a mechanical advantage in the game and a role-playing advantage. A Cynic, for instance, can spend a Drive Point to determine if someone is trying to screw them over, and can gain a Mark of Experience when they expose the truth about someone.

With that all done you spend Trait Points, spread out over 8 traits (Strength, Dexterity, Speed, Resilience, Intellect, Manipulation, Perception, Spirit), with 20 being the mortal limit, 1 being poor, and the rest scaling in between. Pariahs and Paragons can actually break those human limits, by the way. You also get a number of Secondary Traits (like Movement, Damage Bonus and Dodge) that are derived from your Primary Traits.

Next are Talents, which are divided into four groups (Scholar, Rogue, Leader, Hunter) and cover most of your basic skill options like Biology, Intimidation, Diplomacy and Stealth. There are 32 talents in all. Each one is broken down with flavor text, basic description and in-game examples of uses.

You also get Kewl Powerz, and some book keeping with things like Pain Points, Drive Points, Injury Points, Radiation Points, the Soul Path (which tracks from Despair to Hope) and thresholds for The Sickness.

Chapter 3 is the rules chapter, explaining HOW the system works. Essentially, your ranks in your talents (1-5) determines how many cards you draw, which you add or subtract from your relevant trait. Target numbers are listed on a simple chart, broken down into two types of actions, Measured and Threshold checks. The former involves degrees of success, the latter involves straight up success or failure. There are also Competition checks (contested stuff) and Luck checks, which are pretty much straight card draws.

Drive Points are kinda like bennies, action points, can spend Drive Points to re-flip new cards (hopefully removing a red card, for instance), add flat bonuses, even bend the rules a bit.

Once all that is out of the way, the book dives into Combat. Initiative is based off of your Speed (Alertness) trait and talent, and there are rules covering things like surprise. Interestingly, you set the Aggression Rank for your attack (from 1 to 20), with a lower rank meaning you are being more aggressive. You would always use that, right? Well, your opponent can either defend or counterattack...and counterattacking is easier, the less careful the attacker is. Nice bit of strategy there (and examples are provided all over the book). The amount of actions per round is based off of your Warfare skill.

Damage is handled with Pain and Injury Points. As you get hurt, you lose Pain Points. Then you start adding Injury Points. Every 5 Injury Points requires you to make a check to avoid passing out. Flipping Aces is a big deal in combat as Aces are critical successes, red aces are critical failures.

Ranged combat has a slightly different set of rules (like no counter attacks), and there are contingencies for stuff like Headshots, Gag n' Stab (think stealth kills from modern video games), Quickdraw, even using terrain to your advantage.

You can even gain Epic Action points, which lets you do crazy, over the top stuff (but they are rare). And there's even optional minis rules (that are very detailed for being optional), along with an in-depth combat example. One other thing I loved in this chapter is how there are stat-free enemy profiles scattered all over the section. Good stuff.

The gear section is a bit different in this book, covering things like food, water and shelter, which are just as important as weapons (especially when you have Kewl Powerz). There's even an interesting paragraph on some Hosts serving as power sources. There's no laser guns, but there are plenty firearms to choose from, and damage for things like electricity and falling are covered here as well. Equipment purchases are handled with Resource Points, rather than cash.

Facing the Fallout covers a lot of the setting aspects, like The Sickness, including theories on what it is and where it came from (The Magi believe it came from a devilish being called The Usurper), and how gaining Radiation points makes you vulnerable to The well as the nasty part: The Marks are powered by Radiation. Using your Kewl Powerz can let The Sickness get its claws deeper in you.

It's all very cool and creepy, with multiple steps that can be fended off essentially by doing Good Deeds. The Sickness can leave psychic scars on you, and that's if you kick the effects of The Black Dream (the feverish state when The Sickness digs in).

Chapter 7 explains the Kewl Powerz in detail. Surivors can rack up Radiation to make Luck Checks to change events. Paragons have five Disciplines, each with their own effects, and can build their way up to Paragon Transcendence. Magi learn rites from four Traditions (Osiris, Gaia, Odin and Khronos), and there are a BUNCH of them (from tricks like Invisibility and entanglement, to making wounded enemies stop fighting you to resurrection). Hosts can "evolve", having a slew of powers they can gain in steps. For instance, they can grow claws...this allows them to form pistols...which allows them to grow shotguns (and so on). Pariahs can develop along different lines, like Daemons, Moon Beasts, Hercules, Psionics, Seraphim and more, each with their own powers. Vampires can regenerate by drinking blood, for example, then gain supernatural strength, and even gain the ability to enslave people. This all culminates in a Pinnacle Power. The Vampire's Nosferatu Power, for instance, activates all the other powers from his gene pool (aside from Enslave). Each gene pool has an Achilles Heel, though, keyed to the type of Pariah.

And can mix two types of Marks, and the last part of the chapter breaks down what each combination is like.

The last chapter is the GMing chapter. A lot of it is pretty basic stuff, but this is also where the enemy stat blocks are, like the dregs, abominations, thugs, and so on. It's not a HUGE selection, but it's a broad one. A sample Haven is provided (set in New Orleans), as well as a sample protagonist group.

I didn't much care for the Epilogue piece, as it seemed too grim for a setting that appeals to me because of the hope of Reclamation.

The book ends with a character sheet and index.

WHAT WORKS: Reclamation. Seriously...I LIKE that there's this growing viral movement of "let's take back this world." That is reason #1 why I would pick this over other post apocalypse games. Reason #2 is the kewl powerz. (Seriously, there's some great options for Magi, Host and Pariahs, and the Survivors and Paragons have their own cool tricks, if not as flashy). Tons of examples, both short and in-depth. The flavor fiction is generally well done and kept short and to the point.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: At times it seems like it might get over complicated, but nothing that a few cheat sheets can't handle. Some of the art sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the pieces. Needs more random tables.

CONCLUSION: The biggest thing that sells me on the book is the whole Reclamation thing, followed by the coolness of the Marks. I like the card deck game system, but some of the book keeping seems like it could get excessive at times. Way more plusses than minus, and probably the post-apocalyptic setting that has interested me the most in a very long time. It does need more random tables, though. You have a big, crazy, kitchen sink setting with fantasy, sci-fi and horror need random tables that you can draw cards against. That said, I always love a setting where the odds are stacked up against the PCs, and then they are expected to go save the world anyway. Big thumbs up.